Due to my self-proclaimed intellectual inefficiencies, I may never truly understand what William Shakespeare wrote, but do you know what a modern-day Generation Z (or perhaps a Generation Alpha) Hamlet would have replied to Polonius’ question — “What do you see on social media, my lord?”
“Hatred, a polarised people, a self-loathing world on the verge of a mass self-killing spree,” Hamlet would’ve said.
“What is the matter, my lord?” Polonius would’ve asked.
“As if I care. We are anyway going to die, aren’t we?” a sort of nihilist Hamlet would have replied, scrolling through a supply of carefully curated Instagram feeds, doses of self-congratulatory reels and a razzmatazz of TikTok stories and posts reeking of a world on a race to the bottom.
Hamlet in a stoic voice would then have added, “Sometimes, rock bottom is not the last place you hit. Sometimes, you keep hitting rock bottoms, piled one below the other like a forever curse of poor fate. We are doomed and so is this world. Isn’t it?”
“Also, fuck social media,” Hamlet would’ve added before getting on with the scrolling of the never-ending Instagram doomscroll.
After all, how do you stop scrolling? Can you?
Today, as civility keeps dying a slow death each second, with spaces for passionate, unpolarised and unhyphenated conversations shrinking like the carrying capacity of a garbage-choked river, one cannot help but ring a bell of caution.
The age of social media has undoubtedly given us munificent gifts, yet its misuse, laced with a tinge of hyper-ethnonational rhetoric, a bombardment of “too much information” and a fake news pandemic pedalled by unemployed bigots is not lost on us. The chasm between the extremes seems to have widened. Leftists and rightists across the world have taken to the poles and liberals, by all counts, have been announced dead.
“Did they get a funeral they deserved?” Polonius would have interjected.
The present social media landscape bears deep threats to everyone but more so to children. These are the kids of Generation Z, the kids of Generation Alpha and kids in their mothers’ wombs trying desperately to pop out any second now.
“So, how is social media doing it, my lord?” Polonius would’ve asked.
“Wait, I’ll tell you.”
“Firstly, the access to unfiltered content bandaged with hatred-sopped biases across the board carries the fear of creating a new generation that develops under these moulds of trenchant normative and informational social influences.”
“Normative because of the inherent human desire to be accepted by the majority and to conform to its ideals even if they go against all voices of rationality. Informative because the presence of such vile, unfiltered and ‘knowledge-less’ content has rendered this upcoming generation uncertain and more desperate to be ‘right’, leaving it as easy prey to the purveyors of a rabble-rousing cabal. Since they don’t know what version of the truth to choose, they end up choosing the most convenient one, one that is readily available.”
“On WhatsApp my lord?”
“Yes, that too.”
“Childhood being such an impressionable age, located in a time with no strong anchor points, creates a generation, or an army if you will, which rallies behind ‘charismatic leaders,’ their promises and the flag-bearers of extreme ideologies. This young generation and its instant access to polarised content cannot help but succumb to the slow poison of hatred, confusion and extremism seeping down their bodies like oxygen. The more they move through the body, the more un-oxygen they become. These kids upon growing up end up becoming the flag-bearers of what they once learnt or worse did not.”
“Secondly, the rise of new ways to keep oneself occupied on social media (and distracted from the pressing onslaughts of life, like finding an actual job) is matched with the rapid rise of ‘ignorance is the bliss’ attitude, often pedalled by influencers and self-proclaimed motivational speakers. This at the outset seems harmless but the devil lies always in the detail. A generation cultivated to ‘not-think-too-much’ about things that do not concern it immediately has created an age bracket of uncertain, chaotic and un-empathetic people, like a fish hooked on a bait holder, flailing half in the water and half in the air, concerned just with itself and nothing more.”
“We are slowly cultivating a generation that feels like the verses of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller’s ‘First they came’.
“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
“Thirdly, social media, despite its positives, has been successful in knitting a contemporary web, a Kaliyuga version if you will, of invisible Jim Crow laws where hatred is normalised and extremism pedestaled, whichever side you look to. This carries the fears of shaping polarized political attitudes and alignments at an early age, which grow deeper and more persistent as they grow.”
“This generation’s access to such vile vicissitudes of the world has created a generation of indifferent and detached silent observers of something they are a part of and will be. Social media acts as a pleasant tool of distracting this generation’s sparrow-sized attention span from things like climate change, depleting rainforest, countries with blood-curdling eyes locked in a stalemate, to name a few.”
“To name a few, Polonius. To name a few,” Hamlet would’ve added.
“So, what do we do my lord? How as a world can we right this?”
“If we need to bring the change, we will have to ask ourselves something each day, Polonius.”
“What, my lord?”
“The same old thing — To be or not to be.”
Sachin Solanki is a writer from Aligarh, India.
Featured image: Pixabay/Editing: Ujjaini Dutta